Dan Kimball doesn't look like the kind of guy you'd expect to be talking about Jesus, or for that matter, founding a church.
A punk rock and rockabilly musician with white stand-at-attention hair and the lithe body of a professional drummer, he looks more like Billy Idol's brother than a minister.
Maybe that's why he's beloved in Santa Cruz. He is this iconoclastic city's renegade vision of a religious fanatic. And I use the word fanatic in its most positive sense, a fan, or lover of something with devoted passion.
The passion has caught on with a new generation: More than a third of the members of his church, Vintage Faith, are college students. He gives talks you'd never hear from Billy Graham. A recent one was subtitled: "A look at the very disturbing and weird passages in the Bible and why I still believe it is inspired by God."
He's written five other books that try to bring religious traditions into modern times.
"I love the church, despite the mess" he writes in his new book Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion, an easy-to-read work that shows how he found his love for religion in unconventional ways.
In another of many breaks with convention, he'll be giving the book away Sunday at at 350 Mission St. and at the .
The book's endorsers are enough to lure any music fans: they include Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind, Johnny Cash's drummer "Fluke" Holland, Roy Orbison drummer Jimmy VanEaton and singer Wanda Jackson, who recently collaborated with White Stripe Jack White.
Santa Cruz musicians already know Kimball, 51, not just for his playing, but because he started, the comfortable coffee, art and music lounge that is ground zero for aspiring folk and pop musicians. Most people who go there don't even know it's affiliated with a church, other than for the fact that it's next door to one.
"That's why we opened this place up," says Kimball in an interview in the shop's outdoor courtyard. "You can see it's not a proselytizing place. It's intentional. Part of it being in this building says that not all Christianity is what you may think."
One of the differences is that The Abbey has a fair trade shop, selling Third World goods at fair prices for the people who made them.
Through his life, Kimball has had different takes on organized religion. He was brought up in New Jersey, in a family that didn't go to church. After high school, he began a spiritual quest, trying to figure out if he was Christian only because he was born into it.
While on tour with bands, he would drop into churches to see if he could find inspiration. He'd even worked on a commune in Israel. At one small congregation in England, with 18 elderly people and an elderly pastor, he had his moment of enlightenment.
The pastor didn't judge him on his hair or his history. He answered questions without condescending and won Dan over to the possibilities and strengths of a congregation.
Eventually, he moved west and chose to settle in Santa Cruz because he liked the atmosphere more than bigger cities. He found a church here with an unusual method.
Opening the phone book, the only church name that he understood was Santa Cruz Bible Church. He didn't know what the names of other denominations meant. So he walked in and began playing drums in the choir and working with the youth ministry and eventually founded Vintage Faith in 2004.
The Abbey spun out of that as a place to break stereotypes, a place that Jesus would have appreciated as part of the current culture and not one of in-your-face proselytizing, filled with, as he notes in his book, "creepy pastors" or "shiny, happy people holding hands."
"I Wouldn't Like Christians if I Weren't One," he calls one chapter and "The Church is Judgemental and Negative," is another.
In his book, he fights against the presumptions that Christians must be dogmatic, unquestioning. He considers questioning the traditions and finding meaningful answers to be a noble pursuit.
He calls himself an evangelical, but not in the sense of the word that has been hijacked by right-wing churches, meaning Republicans who fight against social issues.
"I'm evangelical in the sense of the original meaning. It means spreading the good news."